Judge denies motion for new judge in death penalty case

Cesar Garcia-Soto

Cesar Garcia-Soto

PRESCOTT- Yavapai County's presiding judge has denied a defense motion in the Cesar Garcia-Soto murder case asking for a change in judge, saying that the attorney who filed the motion does not have legal standing to do so and that he didn't prove the current judge is biased against the defendant.

Michael Terribile, who claimed to be an attorney for VOC resident Garcia-Soto, wanted Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Celé Hancock removed from the case.

Garcia-Soto, 30, was arrested in February 2008 and charged with first- and second-degree murder and two counts of child abuse in connection with the death of his 3-month-old son.

Deputies also arrested the child's mother, Gladys Yamileth Rodriguez-Paz, who was not home at the time of the 911 call, saying she could have acted to stop the abuse.

The motion to change judges was based on lead defense attorney John Napper's argument that, because this is a death penalty case, he is obligated to undertake "an exhaustive investigation into the history and life of Mr. Garcia-Soto," but the fact that Garcia-Soto is a citizen of Mexico means that would have to take place in Mexico, and "the United States State Department has issued a warning asking all American citizens not to travel to that portion of Mexico (Cuidad Juarez in Chihuahua)."

Napper said he did not want to send anyone to Mexico to do the investigation because he found it "morally and ethically repugnant to risk innocent lives attempting to conduct a mitigation investigation."

He had first asked that Judge Hancock dismiss the death penalty, but when she denied that motion, he then asked that he and his co-counsel, Phoenix attorney Dennis Jones, be allowed to withdraw as counsel for Garcia-Soto.

Terribile made several allegations against Hancock: that she communicated with a non-party to the case regarding a pending issue, read confidential reports regarding the defendant's intelligence and threatened to file a bar complaint against Napper, all of which are evidence of "bias and prejudice against the defendant," he wrote.

Presiding Judge David L. Mackey ruled that, despite the fact that Terribile "asserts he is counsel for the defendant" he has appeared in court only "sporadically" and that he is actually counsel for the government of Mexico, which is not a party to the case, and "has not been made counsel of record for the defendant."

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